African Studies Association Annual Meeting - Philadelphia Nov. 2022

I had the pleasure of presenting my paper "Decentralization in Mozambique: The Green Uprising" at the African Studies Association (ASA) annual conference in Philadelphia on November 17, 2022. This was the 65th annual meeting of the scholarly group dedicated to the study of Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. ASA is a learned society of interdisciplenary scholars, many of whom are from Africa or have lived in Africa or have done significant fieldwork there. In previous years, this conference had gone virtual due to COVID, but in 2022 the conference was back in the in-person format.   

The audience for the panel "The Center Matters, but so Does the 
Periphery: Urban Governance and the Need for Rural Support"

Austin Dziwornu Albo from the University of Ghana presented on 
"Private Urbanism and the Spatial Rationalities of Urban Governance"

ASA was founded in 1967, a time of global protests against governments. To Americans, the 1960s anti-war protests and Civil Rights protests were representative of a global movement. In Africa, the protests were associated with decolonization as European powers either lost their grip on their African colonies, or were further alienated from their African colonies in the case that these colonies had gained independence earlier in the 1950s or early 1960s, as many did. ASA was founded with this anti-colonial editorial position, and it maintains this editorial position today, to the extent that this worldview fits the current conditions of African countries. 

One facet of anti-colonialism is to focus on the limits on government that constitutional democracy places. While many Americans may not realize it, many African countries are democracies. Not only are many African countries democracies, but many have also paid the United States the high compliment of adopting our presidential form of democracy rather than the British parliamentary form of democracy. Presentations listed on ASA's conference program evidence this emphasis on understanding and protecting democracy in African countries. One such panel of experts presented on the topic "Electoral Integrity in the Mozambique 2019 Election and Democratization." The panel included scholars from the Center for Public Integrity, a Maputo, Mozambique-based research and watchdog group with whom I met in-country, and from the flagship University of Eduardo Mondlane, named for the 'George Washington' of Mozambique who helped win independence from Portugal in 1975. 

My paper was based in part on research that I did in Mozambique for one month in 2018 and in anticipation of work that I will do in Mozambique for my Fulbright for three months in 2023. The "Green Uprising" is a little-known political science concept that describes rural and urban political relations in developing countries. Developing countries are also called 'emerging markets,' 'the global south,' 'late developing countries,' 'poor countries,' or, in the Cold War, 'Third World' countries to distinguish them from 'First World' countries (i.e., the western democracies) or 'Second World' countries (the forme Soviet Union and its allies). Developing countries tend to have large, simple agricultural sectors, low per capita GDP's, and often have significant portions of their population that lack basic infrastructure, such as running water or electricity. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, such as me, or missionaries will often have direct experience of this facet of developing countries.  
Here I am with a Town Councilman in Beira, Mozambique in 2018

The 'green uprising' argument holds that there are modern, complex politics, and there are rural, traditional politics. Modern, urban politics have representative institutions, such as elected town councils and complex bureaucracies, such as municipal, state, and national government entities that can build and maintain roads, levy taxes, and regulate some private industries. The urban and modern political parties are programmatic in the sense that they are based on ideas, and they treat citizens impartially once elected. If you are elected on a low (or high) tax platform in such a system, then all citizens get low (or high) taxes if you are elected. 

The Gentleman in this Photo Is a School Teacher and Political Boss in Rural Bolivia in 1997

In contrast, in traditional, rural political systems, parties an politics are patronage-based or clientelistic. That is, you are granted public resources from a political boss if you supported that political boss, and you are not granted public resources if you did not support the political boss. This was the case in the US with Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall, who would grant fire or trash service to his political supporters and deny it from his political opponents. This was the case with the assassin of president Garfield, who wanted his patronage job because he had supported Garfield in his successful election campaign. This was the case in the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico City when the ruling PRI sent emergency services first to its supporters and then to everyone else. And this type of politics is common in rural areas of developing countries. The green uprising happens when urban, modern politicians try to incorporate rural, traditional political institutions in to national politics, and in doing so, modernize the rural political institutions. 

In less abstract terms, in Mozambique the national government has traditionally taken over what would typically be state and local powers in systems with federalism (the sharing of power by local and national government) such as the US. These powers have included the national government's naming governors and mayors instead of letting lower levels of government have locally elected officials. In recent years since the 1990s, Mozambique has begun to 'decentralize' its politics by selectivelly letting lower levels of government have elected officials. 

Analysts and journalists often describe the pros and cons of this 'decentralization'. On the positive side, local governments are more responsive to citizens, more representative of national diversity, seen as more legitimate, and can be more effective at providing many services such as fire, police, and trash collection. On the negative side, local governments can be more corrupt, overwhelmed by the complexities of large public works, and can be more likely to violate citizens' rights.  

These are all important facets of decentralization in places such as Mozambique, however, we should take into consideration how decentralization helps address problems raised by the 'green uprising.' Decentralization doesn't just devolve power from the national government to local governments; it creates a new relationship between urban political elites and rural political elites, and in doing so, can help to modernize rural political institutions. 

I received valuable feedback from my colleagues at the ASA, and I greatly appreciated the opportunity to present at the conference. (I also like to eat Philly cheesesteaks when I go to that town.)


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